For the visually impaired, technology can swing a wrecking ball at barriers in a world built for those with 20/20 vision.
But if people lack proper training on how to use technological devices, their utility is lost.
That’s precisely the reason for the Alphapointe Technology Camp, a weeklong program for visually impaired kids in middle and high school that ends Friday.
Alphapointe, a nonprofit organization that helps those with visual impairment, teamed up with Sprint and Samsung to teach children how to operate electronic tablets. Students learn about various applications and features that can make school more accessible when they return to classrooms next month.
“We’re coming up with different applications to help with documentation, writing papers, keeping organized,” said Krista Mankae, an instructor at the camp. “But at the same time, we’re showing them those accessibility features that can magnify and navigate (and) talkback features that can help with kids who have visual impairment on a tablet.”
For instance, reading the whiteboard is a task that most students take for granted, but it’s a major hurdle for kids who have trouble with sight. One application can scan a photo of a whiteboard and then “talk” to the tablet user, telling the student what it “sees” on the screen.
It’s the fifth year of the camp, and it’s the second year Samsung has partnered with Alphapointe.
Samsung provided the tablets, which students keep after camp is over. Samsung representatives observe kids as they navigate the devices, hoping to learn how to improve apps and tablet design for visually impaired users.
The 24 enrolled students are grouped into two rooms.
Blind children share a table in one conference room, which is filled with the sounds of students telling commands to their tablets and the “dinging” of a touch-tone Braille keyboard.
The second room is larger and used by students who have some sight. The students in this room are a boisterous bunch, teasing the instructors and joking among themselves.
“Alpha!” shouts the instructor when he needs to nab the students’ focus.
“Pointe!” the kids shout back and then fall into a mostly attentive silence.
This is the room where 12-year-old Amiah Washington from Knob Noster, Mo., decided to develop her own apps.
She learned how certain features on the tablet make it more accessible to use — for her, black and orange colors are easiest to read, especially when the letters are blown up to a larger size on the screen — and she was inspired.
“If you’re sending a text message, you can move your fingers in and out … and change the font in the text,” Amiah said, imagining how she might make the tablet more manageable.
She has other ideas, such as adding photographs of landmarks and destinations to electronic maps.
“I’ve had experiences with the tablet before,” Amiah said. “But now I know how to work this tablet, and I feel smarter.”